No. 2 seed Villanova became the first team in the 2022 NCAA Tournament to punch a ticket to this year’s Final Four. The Wildcats, a slight underdog to No. 5 seed Houston, went wire to wire for the win over the Cougars on Saturday, advancing to the final weekend of March Madness with a 50-44 victory.
In a matchup between two efficient, top-10 offenses, the Wildcats prevailed by winning in a way they don’t often do: with their defense. They held the red-hot Cougars, which eliminated No. 1 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16, to 1-of-20 shooting from 3-point range and 17-of-58 shooting from the floor. It was Houston’s worst shooting performance from the field since the 2013-14 season and its worst mark from 3-point range in over a decade, according to College Basketball Reference.
“They played tough. It was hard to score for both teams,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright in a post-game interview. “That’s what good defense is all about. They were good defensively, we were good defensively.”
Villanova became the first No. 2 seed to ever beat a No. 5 seed in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. Jermaine Samuels again starred for the Wildcats with a team-high 16 points, while Caleb Daniels – the only other Nova player in double figures – added 12 points. Senior guard Collin Gillespie had just six points.
Villanova will face the winner of the Midwest Region in next week’s Final Four, where it awaits the winner of No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 10 seed Miami. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game.
1. Defense, defense, defense
Houston averaged more than 75 points per game coming into Saturday. Villanova averaged just under 73 per game. The two teams could not even muster a combined 100, though, in a defensive slog. If you had the under, which landed at 127, you had reason to celebrate early.
“If you’d had told me before the game that we were going to hold them to 28% shooting from the field and 23% from the 3-point line, and we’d lose, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. “Our kids guarded. Man, did they guard. Our defense was spot on. We held them to 50 points. We had a lot of opportunities, and they didn’t go in. That happens.”
Villanova’s 50 points were its fewest in a game since 2018. Houston’s 44 points were its fewest in a game since 2015. So, in true March Madness fashion, the two most effective offensive teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament battled it out on defense, producing the lowest-scoring tourney game all postseason.
2. Nova’s sustained greatness
Villanova’s win over Houston gave the program its fourth Final Four appearance since 2009 and its third (!) In the last six tournaments. The last two times it got this far, it went and won the whole damn thing.
The bracket’s decidedly more tricky this time around – No. 1 seed Kansas may await the Wildcats in the next round – but they can absolutely finish the job like they did the two previous times. This team does not have the best depth, nor does it have the best front court. However, it has experience, lineup versatility, an elite head coach and a breakout star of March in Jermaine Samuels.
3. Key injury for Nova
In the final minute of action as Villanova was closing out the game, Justin Moore, the team’s second-leading scorer, went down with an apparent leg injury and did not return to the game. The severity of the injury is unknown, but the reaction here … well, it’s not crazy to think he could be out of the rest of the tournament. Wright speculated after the game that Moore’s prognosis was “probably not good. “
If Moore can’t go, it’d strike a crushing blow to a Villanova team that doesn’t have the depth it’s had in previous years. Only seven Wildcats got into the game Saturday and one of them played three minutes. Something to keep an eye on ahead of next week’s Final Four with a matchup against the tournament’s only remaining No. 1 seed potentially waiting.